Play Based Preschool vs Other Options

Updated on February 13, 2014
S.H. asks from Santa Barbara, CA
16 answers

Both of my kids have gone to play based preschool age 2y9m or so (only 2 days a week for 3 hours, so most of their time has been with me). My son qualified for Transitional Kindergarten when he was 4 going on 5. It is free and it is equal to what kindergarten was 10+ years ago according to the teacher who has taught kinder for 30 years. The state of CA change the Kinder entry age from 5 by Dec 2nd to 5 by Sept 2nd, so CA kids get a free year of school if they have a b-day that makes them eligible.

My daughter does not qualify for TK. I feel that another year of play based preschool will not prepare her for real Kindergarten and plan to switch her to academic preschool (it would be everyday for 3 hours). Then I start reading articles on how wonderful play based is and what a shame it is to try to get a young child reading before they are ready and it makes me think academic is not such a good idea.

I would like to hear other parents' experiences with the preschool for their school aged kids. Maybe the academic one had too many worksheets or the play based did not teach lower case. Also, I am not familiar with all types of preschools. There is a Montessori in the area, but out of my budget.

edit: AV has a good point. My son's play based school seemed to have more experiments. The kids would make a meal and measure ingredients along with use hammers on nails outside. My daughter school is missing some of these experiments and it seems like too much free play when I volunteer. I think that is my real issue for next year. It has a wonderful teacher student ratio (a reason I picked it over other options).

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answers from Pittsburgh on

There is no such thing as too much free play for a preschooler. There is absolutely no reason for work sheets in preschool. Children learn by playing. The Scandinavian countries (who apparently outperform us in most studies) don't even start teaching reading until the kids are 7. The Waldorf schools don't teach reading until the same age. There is no need to 'prepare' kids for kindergarten.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

i don't suppose my opinion will be helpful, since i'm very very very very much in the camp that Very Small People should be playing. that's how they learn. it's their job. it's what they're supposed to do. i don't see 'free play' as a negative in any way.
the fact that schools are now demanding and guilt-tripping parents into academizing their Very Small People at Very Young Ages is a huge black mark against america's rapidly declining public education system, not some sort of modern fantastic educational breakthrough.
small children have been hardwired to learn through play for millenia now. it makes a lot more sense to me to gear the educational process to the humans who are supposed to benefit from it, rather than to keep trying to mold them to fit an awkward system.

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answers from Denver on

I had my daughter (now almost 5) in a play based preschool from about 18 months until just a few weeks ago, when we moved out of state. I loved it and she loved it. We started just two mornings a week (6 hours total) and then had her in 3 days a week for 5 hours a day. Even though they considered themselves play based, they did do some light academics, especially in current year, such as calendar time, weather charts, working on the alphabet and numbers, letter sounds, and so on. They had crafts, story time, music, and also center time. A lot of the "play" in a good preschool is still learning - such as playing in sand and water tables, filling and scooping, building blocks.

I think the most important thing is to find a place where you and your child get a warm feeling from the staff. We signed my daughter up for a new school due to our move. Her first day is tomorrow. We had a tour yesterday that was almost two hours! It is more academic focused than her old school but I get a great feeling about it. All the children seemed so content, the teachers were warm and kind, they answered all of my questions with great answers, and it just had a happy welcoming atmosphere. Ask about staff turnover, how they handle discipline, how they handle teaching kids at different developmental stages, what their ratios are, how they handle transitions (such as from recess to circle time), education level of staff, fire drills. Good luck!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

I think play based is great. My son went to one for two years before kinder and my daughter is in her first year there now. The kids have a blast and they learn while they are playing. I don't think kids need to be outright taught their letters and numbers in preschool. They will pick it up in other ways and can build on that foundation in kinder. My son is in first now and kinder definitely taught the fundamentals.

The main point of preschool is to teach them social skills and how to be a good student. They learn to play with and get along with others. They learn to sit quietly when it's storytime and to follow directions from the teacher. They don't need to learn letters and numbers. They build their fine motor skills through cutting and coloring and they have a chance to make all kinds of fun art projects.

I strongly support play-based preschools and would not recommend switching your daughter. I think she will thrive in kinder after two years at a play-based school.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

A "play based" preschool, or any preschool, should have a solid mission statement and philosophy/curriculum in place, one that all the teachers are educated and trained in implementing. Otherwise it's just another name for daycare.
Look for a school that is NAEYC accredited:
This is for sure a good sign of a high quality program.
My kids went to a play based preschool, just three mornings a week, High Scope/Emergent curriculum, similar to a Montessori or Reggio Emilia type program, but slightly more structured. It wasn't academic at all, nor was it super expensive.
Let me tell you, they were MORE than prepared for K. All four areas were covered: social, emotional, physical and cognitive. My kids learned PLENTY, but it was always fun, always hands on, always through PLAY and discovery and imagination. They didn't need reading and writing and math worksheets because they were always busy: looking at books, listening to stories, singing and sorting and drawing and cutting and beading and well, you name it. They were preparing for reading and writing and math. They also learned how to sit and listen, share and help during circle and clean up time. They learned how to be a good friend, be patient and take turns.
So take a look at the WHOLE program, and especially the commitment and passion of the director and teachers. Having your kids in an environment that focuses on how young children best thrive and succeed is more important than just about anything else IMO.

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answers from Chicago on

All the research shows that kids learn best playing. Period, end of story.

The drive for academics is a drive created by the fear of parents. There is no research supporting early academics. None.

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answers from Boston on

I think we need to expand our definition of "learning" - kids who learn to function in a group, explore various skills, watch/observe, and verbalize what they are seeing ARE learning. There is such pressure to learn facts or letters, with people thinking their kids are gifted because they know all the states and capitals by 2nd grade, or they read 4 grades above their age, etc. Preschoolers should be learning to hold a pencil or a crayon, not forced to write the entire alphabet.

We have a whole generation of kids who can't entertain themselves without a structured program (after-school or otherwise), who can't do any kind of critical thinking, and who don't function well in college because they don't have independent thought or the social skills necessary to live in a diverse environment.

My son is in his early 20s, and I took a lot of heat when he was younger because I refused to push him. He did an "extra" year of preschool and started kindergarten when he was 6 - and it had nothing to do with academic mastery. He never enrolled in a lot of structure programs after school - he did a season of Rec. Dept. soccer or basketball now and then, and he went to religious school, but otherwise he played with his neighborhood friends or (gasp!) played creatively on his own, building and designing with Legos or watching an old helium balloon float around the yard with different weights on the end of the string. He rode bikes and played ball and dug for salamanders in the woods. In high school, he discovered cross country and track, and only then did he do a daily activity after school. He was a great leader, captain of teams, and did community service projects.

He's now a highly social, skilled adult (civil engineer) with a wide circle of friends. He's creative, curious, and cultured.

Here's an interesting article -- we've got a problem on our hands in this country.

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answers from San Francisco on

Why don't you just read to your daughter at night (or whenever else you have time)? Reading to your kids is one of the best things you can do to prepare them for their future education. You don't need a school to do that.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

I did play based preschool for DD. She was 4 and it was her first experience in school. I felt they did a wonderful job of preparing her for K and she has done well. The biggest thing DD needed was the structure of listening to someone else, school routine, etc. She asked me today what the difference was between Pre-K and preschool and I told her that while many use the terms interchangeably, pre-K is often for a more academic program where kids learn their letters and numbers. She said, "I learned that in preschool!"

I think that you need to investigate all school options before enrolling. Some are way way too academic and some aren't academic enough. I think that learning through play is ideal for most kids. Let them learn colors by painting. Learn about science by melting ice cubes and looking at bugs. Learn about numbers and fractions by baking. Etc. I loved, loved DD's preschool. They assured me they would have her ready for our district's K and at the end of the year and that May they showed me a report card that laid out what she was capable of. I think that's what you want. A program that plays...with a purpose.

FWIW, she was not reading, but knew her letters. It was a small program through a local church.

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answers from Las Vegas on

My 5 year old son missed the kindergarten cutoff by 3 days this past fall, so he is still in preschool. His preschool is play based, and is also the same one he went to last year. Although I was upset that he wasn't able to go to kindergarten (he was ready and would have done great), he has had a great time this year. He is the oldest and most advances, so he gets to help out a lot with the other kids, passing things out, setting things up, and if he is interested in something, they will plan activities related to that. He still gets to play a lot, which I like, but he is also learning all kinds of other things (leadership, independent learning, following his interests, etc). Since they don't do a lot of academics, that's something we work on at home, i.e. he wrote all of the other kids names on his valentine's day cards, he has some workbooks, we do science experiments, etc. If you keep your daughter at the same school, talk to the teachers and see if they can push her a little more in new ways, or just work on things at home. Make sure she knows the basics for kindergarten, but don't worry if she doesn't have more than that.

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answers from Seattle on

What Suz T said. They learn through play. Kids are thrown into the academic ring way too early these days. It's sad.

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answers from Philadelphia on

I just wanted my daughter's to have a great experience in school and love it. They actually wanted to go 7 days a week because they had so much fun in preschool:).

I took it upon myself to educate my girls. My youngest went into kindergarten reading chapter books. (I taught her to read using the book "How to teach your child to Read in 100 Easy Lesson". We did this book about 15 minutes per day and by day 60 she was reading independently. I also read to my kids a lot. We read number, letter and color books so they were able to memorize those things without drills or lessons. We also played silly rhyming games and counting games in the car.

Both my girls had already mastered the kindergarten curriculum before their first day of kindergarten.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

It really depends on what the school calls 'academics'. My child goes to a traditional preschool. They start off the day singing a calendar song, then look at a calendar and mark what day it is. Then they sign a song about weather, and one of the kids puts magnets on the board with the weather that morning. Then they have circle time where the teacher reads aloud and asks them questions about the story. Then they talk about the letter of the day and find things in the room that start with that letter, and they try copying that letter on a piece of paper. Then they have recess, which is outside if possible, if not, it's indoor free play time. Then lunch. And there's your 3 hours.

Maybe some people think of sitting on a carpet and singing songs and having story time as hard-core academics, but I really don't. No, it's not 'play-based', but as far as I can tell the kids are having fun.

So, I say sit in on a session, see what they do, and see if the kids enjoy it. Traditional academic doesn't have to equal no fun.

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answers from Chicago on

My older kids went to a Catholic school for pre-k and kinder. It was the only one around my area with all day school for both and public did not have pre-k by me. They learned their numbers and letters, shapes and other basic things. They also learned by playing. I think the best is one that puts both together. My 5 yr old went to the park district's pre-k program when she was 3 and 4. She also learned the basics both yrs, though 3 was more play based than 4 was. But they also learned through play both years. Now, with the core curriculum thing, it is more academic based for K.

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answers from San Francisco on

I agree whole-heartely with Diane B. Your daughter is learning how to function in a group. She is developing motor skills with cutting and pasting or any other sort of art project. She will "master" all of the other things in good time. She does not need to be ready for college when she enters kindergarten.

My daughter, stepsons and the granddaughter I am raising now never went to preschool - play based or any other type. They spent the first five years at home and they did very well in school.

Your child hasMANY years of school ahead of her. Let her enjoy the time she has before she has to go to school.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

There is a big difference in what you want out of a program, any program.

In my house she'd go to Pre-K at the local elementary school when she was 4. Then she'd start Kindergarten after she was 5. Period.

Mother's Day Out, pre-school, other play based programs are for developing early childhood skills. They are not wasted time by any means. Kids learn tons of things by playing. That is absolutely a needed thing. BUT a kiddo is ready to go to school when they're at that age where school is for them.

If she's 4 then put her in the local school pre-K program. They play and have table time and circle time and nap time and lunch time and play outside time and computer time and more and more and more. It's not all sit at the table and be quiet until they're in 1st grade or even the middle of first grade. The levels before 1st grade are a lot more play that actual sit down table time. That's usually less than half an hour all day unless it's a craft or something fun.

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